It’s 4am and I’m having my first cup of uninterrupted coffee in I don’t remember how long. We’ve slept a combined total of 10 hours in the last 48. It’s 19, windy, snowy and I have two sleeping kids warm inside the house. I am alternating monitoring my sleeping kids in the house, and a sow who is laboring, quietly in the barn, keeping her new babies warm and snuggled against her milk-filled teats.
It’s remarkably peaceful, especially given how difficult this winter has been. Last year we battled arctic temperatures, which was a beast unto itself and we are incredibly grateful to have survived that season. This winter was the opposite until this past week – mud was our biggest battle throughout November and December.
The relentless mud, created by the rain and warm temperatures created a lot of work to keep the animals healthy and the barns clean. But, we were grazing hard into mid-to-late November and had cows ON GREEN PASTURE into December. Unheard of.
Now, of course, winter has finally arrived but we have hopes of a short, quick winter before the blessed relief of spring. This winter has been more mentally and emotionally challenging, which is sometimes more difficult than the tangible, physical obstacles we face daily. This season seems to have to common theme of mind terror.
Our cow (Susie) calved in December, but her milk didn’t come in for days and never produced colostrum – something we had never seen before, and Dan has delivered close to 500 calves. We had to stomach tube the calf some colostrum we frantically got from another farm, and we’re left scratching our heads as to what was going on with her.
We were able to rule out mastitis, ketosis, metritis, a retained placenta, a displaced abomasum and mineral deficiency. She had a perfectly normal, uncomplicated birth and a small but perfectly healthy heifer we named Sally and is milking wonderfully now. Mind terror.
Another cow (Buttercream), we had to make the unfortunate decision to cull. We were reluctant to make that choice at all and the drive to the butcher was difficult in our somber and reflective moods. We reviewed all the problems we encountered with this particular animal and all the ways we tried to avoid this very decision. The only “hitch” we encountered was getting 90% of the way home, and stopping at the feed store only to have our battery die and have to jump start the truck again. It was more hilarious than annoying.
No, the mind terror really began with taking our first load of pigs to the butcher this weekend. These were the pigs born on the farm in July – the ones we spent hours watching be born. Making sure they were clean, dry, warm and nursing from mom. Some had good moms and a few had a bad mom, who is already gone. The countless hours we have into these animals made us sad to have them go, but also rewarding to accomplish such a large project.
Moving animals is generally a difficult task because the animal(s) don’t want to load onto the trailer. It’s out of the ordinary and that can make them nervous. Sometimes it’s difficult because of the equipment – the trailer lights aren’t working or you blow a tire en route. A short task that turns into a long project is never welcomed with a good attitude.
This trip with the pigs pretty much hit every mark on the checklist of a hellish journey. The pigs were a pain to load on the trailer. Thankfully I had a friend over to watch the kids in the house because it was 2 hours of getting covered in slop – a lovely mixture of pig manure, melted snow, straw, and God knows what else while herding 8 of the 26 pigs we needed onto the trailer. Let’s just say herding cats would have been easier.
Thankfully, we loaded them a day earlier than we needed to because the total trip took 2 days, 12 hours and 3 different vehicles. Their shifting weight on the trailer made driving difficult, especially in the pouring rain on Saturday, but nothing our F350 couldn’t handle. We got about 15 minutes from home before the rear gear box in the truck locked up, causing the trailer to jack-knife and the trip to come to a screeching halt.
Mind you, Dan had fixed the truck not once, but twice earlier in the day to ensure it was road worthy. The previous weekend he had broken off a part that made 4 wheel drive not work while cutting and hauling firewood (we had been out since Christmas so we had little to no heat for the interim). We replaced that part and then it needed some battery work which he had fixed that morning.
So, here he was on the side of the road, pouring down rain and the truck wouldn’t budge an inch.
Luckily, I had *tried* to stay home with the kids to finish up washing jars, pouring off milk and washing the bulk tank and milker, so I met him with our Suburban. By the time the tow truck arrived, we got the truck on the wrecker, and the trailer hooked up it was pretty far into the night.
We called our relief milkers who (thankfully!) came to do evening chores for us so we could inch our way home with the trailer. Once home, we dropped the trailer and borrowed a friend’s truck so Dan could get to his plow job if he was called in that night.
Thankfully, no one (humans or animals) were injured during that episode and happily we all slept a full 8 hours Saturday night – which was wonderful because that’s the last time either of us have slept through the night.
Sunday we finished our morning chores and got the trailer hooked up to the suburban. By this time, it had snowed and there was a bit of ice on the roads but we thought we would give it a shot since the pigs needed to be in that night for Monday morning butchering.
Turns out the 2WD and bald tires were no match for the roads and after sliding through one stop sign we turned around to head back home. Again, thankfully, we were able to borrow another friend’s F350 to haul the trailer, which is about the only vehicle that could make the trip safely.
So, we drove to grab the F350, returned to the house and hooked everything up, only to discover that in their boredom on the trailer (they had water, food, and straw), the pigs had chewed through all the wiring on the trailer that ran along the baseboards. So, we spent another hour stripping the wire, reconnecting it and taping it up so we at some semblance of working lights to haul these stinkers with.
Once we got on the road, the remainder of the trip went off without a hitch – the animals arrived safely and we returned home. Dan dropped the kids and I off so we could prep for evening chores while he refueled the borrowed truck and returned it. He got it back safely, parked in their barn, went to open the truck door to check one last time for anything we left in there, only to have the door handle pull off in his hand.
It was a little too much for him to *handle* at this point in time! Luckily, our friend thought it was hilarious and it ended up being a 3 dollar part and a 20 minute fix. But, the mind terror. Just when you think you’re safe and in the clear…
After milking and the kids were in bed, Dan was called in to plow so he was gone until 8am the next morning- I was up until 1am finishing chores and up again at 6am with the kids. So, I did get a second “night” of sleep but as soon as he got home I did morning chores and he napped for about an hour before taking the Suburban to get new tires and do milk deliveries before another round of the lake effect clipper storm appeared.
After dinner, evening chores, and another brief 1 hour nap, Dan was called back in to plow. Before leaving at midnight he noticed one of our sows had some swelling and discharge (we have 3 sows due in the next week or two) so I set my alarm for 3am to check her. By 3 she had delivered her first piglet who was dry and nursing well already.
Which brings me to my current bleary-eyed, un-showered state. Hopefully Dan will be home before it gets light out, but for the time being I’m working on the computer, drinking coffee on the couch, and alternating between checking on my sleeping kids and my laboring sow who is up to 4 piglets born – all alive, dry, warm-ish and nursing.
So, all of this is to say, that the winter has been interesting to say the least, with lots of conversations like, “It’s normal to have a newborn calf in the living room, right? Why can’t we just be normal people? Why are doing this again? There has to be an easier way to be this poor than working 80 hours a week…”
If you’d like to support this crazy venture of ours, and more conversations like this, we still have limited pork available by the half/whole that will be delivered to the butcher this weekend and processed next week.
Price is $3.99/lb hanging weight and that includes the kill fee but does not include the processing costs since that varies depending on how you would like the meat custom butchered. We expect an average of 150 lb hanging weights. Details on our production practices can be found here.
We had to cull a sow this fall so, we wanted to share what we received out of a whole pig to give you an idea of what you can expect from a half or whole hog. By buying in bulk, you can save 15-20% off the retail price plus the butchering is customized for your preferences and needs.
Our sow weighed 219 lb hanging weight, which likely means she was around 280-300 lb live weight. Of that 219 lb hanging weight, we received 184 lb yield meat. Of that 184 lbs of meat, here’s our breakdown of what we received…
- Bacon 15 lbs (8% of total weight)
- Shoulder Roast 15 lbs (8%)
- Breakfast Sausage Links 22 lbs (12%)
- Breakfast Sausage Patties 18 lbs (10%)
- Hams 49 lbs (26%)
- Pork Loin Roast 10 lbs (5%)
- Pork Chops 30 lbs (17%)
- Pork Steaks 17 lbs (9%)
- Ribs 8 lbs (5%)
If you receive a half pig you would simply half all these weights. If you’re splitting a half with someone and receive a quarter you would quarter these weights.
We were sure to ask for the maximum bacon, hams, steaks, chops, roasts and ribs. But, you can get almost the entire pig made into sausage if you don’t eat those other cuts. Options for sausage include: Breakfast, Zesty, Italian, Polish, Brats, Tomato Basil, Honey Mustard and plain ground.
For smoking your hams and bacon, nitrite-free options are available for around $1/lb – this a slightly higher price since the cost for obtaining and using non-conventional methods is more costly, but it’s the more natural and traditional means of curing those cuts.
Our Berkshire pigs are born an raise on the farm. They are fed a diverse diet of vegetable scraps, bulk milk from our dairy, fall apples and pumpkins and even the occasional batch of stale doughnuts! They give birth in our barn before being transferred to pasture after weaning (around 8 weeks), with plenty of space to root around and wallow in the mud. We do not dock their tails, file their teeth or use restrictive farrowing crates, unlike conventional pork production. Our herd never receives vaccinations, growth hormones or antibiotics (unless a vet call is necessary to save the animal’s life). They are also raised on 100% non-GMO, locally-grown feed from Starbard Farms Feed in Lowell.
Contact us with any questions or to claim your local, pastured, non-GMO pork today!